By Sean Dietrich
CRACKER BARREL—I am eating breakfast with a cute date. My date is a baby. A fat baby. She is my niece, Lucy. I love fat babies. They do something to me. They make me feel like the world is warm and squishy. When I hold Lucy, I feel nothing but squish. It’s as though the entire world is one big wonderful bouncy castle with all the cynical people standing outside, and all the happy people jumping inside, playing tag, laughing, and eating popsicles. Maybe it’s Lucy’s fat little thighs. You should see them. They are Virginia hams. I could just eat her. And her cheeks. They are big and round, and when you kiss them you taste baby. Babies have a taste and smell. Their skin is so new that it gives off a fresh scent. It’s the same idea as new vehicles with new-car smell. This year, my wife and I bought a van that we use for traveling to my speaking engagements. It’s not a new van, mind you. In fact it’s not even a pretty van. It looks like the kind of utility van that LabCorp medical professionals drive when collecting urine samples from reputable places of business.
But it is the newest car I have ever had, and it still has new-car smell. Sometimes I just sit in our van and breathe in and out until I get a headache. Still, new-car smell is not half as nice as new-baby smell. Babies smell like flowers, and lavender, and cheese grits, and cookies, and biscuits. Here in Cracker Barrel, I am watching Lucy demolish a biscuit with her bare hands. She is wearing a pink ribbon around her head and a floral-print onesie. She is a non-stop eating machine. All she does is eat. She finishes the biscuit, then starts eating strawberries, yogurt, four strips of bacon, eight sausage links, a supreme pizza with Canadian bacon and extra peppers, and two live goats. That’s how I know that Lucy and I are soulmates. I was a fat baby. My mother said I would eat anything put before me. Even liver. My father loved liver and onions. So did I. Sometimes we would eat liver and onions together, contest-style. And even when I was a kid, I could outdo my father. He’d start falling apart after two livers. I could down four or five and still have room for pound cake.
I still love liver and onions, but it’s very difficult to find in restaurants these days. I guess modern Americans don’t like to eat the internal organs of animals. But I like them all. Hog livers, chicken livers, beef livers, you name it. The only place I can find liver these days is at a little joint named Annie Pearl’s, outside Dothan, Alabama. The liver is top notch. Tell them Sean sent you. When Lucy eats, I can’t help but admire her because I remember when she was a newborn with meningitis. It was frightening. Doctors weren’t giving us a lot of hope.
My wife and I spent New Year’s Eve at the hospital with my sister in ICU. When the clock struck midnight, my wife was holding Lucy against her chest. Meanwhile, I was back at our pet-friendly hotel, taking our dogs out to pee. And I’ll never forget that holiday. I looked up at the sky. The brand new year was only seconds old. There were fireworks, people cheering in the distance. And I was talking to the sky. “Please,” I was saying. “Let Lucy live.”
A lot of other people were saying the same thing. And a few days later, Lucy pulled through. Her skinny body went from tiny to large and in charge. When I hold her fat little feet, or smell her new-baby smell, I think about that. I am not only grateful that she is healthy, but that she is part of our little family. I feel the same way about Lucy as I once felt about Lucy’s mother, my kid sister. It was difficult watching my baby sister turn into a woman. It stung a little bit, I don’t know why. Our father died when my sister was so young, so I was all that was left. During childhood, my sister needed someone who had answers. So I pretended to have all the answers, even though I was about as intelligent as ditch water. I enjoyed being her answer man. And when she didn’t need me anymore, it was bittersweet. I gave my sister away at her wedding. It was a simple courthouse wedding. My father should have been there to do it, but he was not alive. So I did it. It was hard to hold myself together that day. I’ve always been a little bit of a cry baby, but big days make it worse. My sister has made a life for herself. A good one, too. It has a lot of love in it. And it has many biscuits. I watch her healthy, fat baby destroy the biscuit. I smile. Lucy smiles back at me. I know that this is as close to heaven as a man can get without being dead. There is just one thing missing. It’s too bad Cracker Barrel doesn’t serve liver.